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"When will someone make a story ballet set in the twenty-first century?"


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This is a quotation from Lindsey Winship in her review of ENB's Coppelia. Is anyone aware of any story ballets set in the current century? Does Raven Girl count? Does Stuttgart Ballet's Krabat count? Why do choreographers invariably look to 'old' sources for inspiration? After all, there are plenty of new books and new plays being written.

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As to the question about why a choreographer would look to an old story....

 

I would assume that an old story has stood the test of time.  Putting on any kind of story ballet is a huge investment of time and money with, of course, no guarantee  that it will be successful.  However, if the story has withstood the test of time - at least that part of the production investment choice is "safe."    Even then, productions based on tried and true stories still may fail.

 

I also think that often we go to the theatre to be taken out of ourselves - away from our own daily reality.  Sometimes a story which occurs in our  own time is too close.  If it is sad - the sadness may be too fresh.  If it is a love story, perhaps we know the reality is that the "happy ever after" is still playing out.  

 

And a modern story may injure or anger people still alive, or give a viewpoint which is one sided or incomplete.  Does the company, the theatre management, the prducers, the investors want to chance the appearance of bias?  

 

Old things have a magic for us.

 

 A ballerina has just rec'd a letter from her lover and she goes from joy  to despair as she dances and reads the letter - till finally she colllapses in heartbreak.   Now - take that same ballerina logging onto her computer or even looking at her hand held computer/phone, reading a text message from her lover.  Though the choreography and the story line are the same - somehow a letter is so much more personal than a cell phone.  

 

A shoot out with high powered guns is just not the same as a sword fight between Romeo and Tybalt.  A Lilac Fairy showing the Prince a vision of a Sleeping Beauty named Aurora is not the same as showing him her FaceBook page.

 

It's too close to us - the theatre is not about reality.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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No, not in my book(!). I'm trying to think of something I've seen on television recently which could be made into a ballet but nothing comes to mind. A lot of drama is actually crime drama (eg The Killing) or political drama (eg Prisoners of War or the American version, Homeland).

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There was a scene in Coronation Street a few months ago, where Gail Platt was doing the ironing. David, her son, came in and they started having a huge row about something. All the while, the music from Swan Lake was playing in the background. On the radio, I hasten to add, not a full orchestra! It was a very amusing juxtaposition. 

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I read that review last night too, but it wasn't the 21st century comment that stood out for me but the asinine remark that "Coppelia is like the UKIP of ballet,,,,".  Lyndsey Winship is an excellent critic of the contemporary dance scene but I feel she is outside her comfort zone on ballet as shown in the cringe-worthy coverage of the forthcoming Kirov season the night before, particularly the gaffe about Marguerite being an aging courtesan when in fact the Dumas novel was based on a woman who died aged twenty three.

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Financial investment into making the ballet is always going to be of utmost importance and for that the established classics have proved themselves popular over time and not just been a passing fad. Literature tends to go in trends - recently lots of 'magic' from the popularity of Harry Potter, vampires & supernatural and crime dramas. So I guess it depends to a certain extent also if the popular trends lend themselves to a story ballet. Didn't someone write once that there are only 7 basic plots in literature?

 

I think the point about distance from reality is also valid and I sort of wonder if the settings for story ballets will advance as time passes. You have ballets based in times of princesses and castles of long ago, based on Shakespeare's times also but more recently there are ballets based on 20th century authors and set in the 20th century - whether they class as true story ballets or not I don't know - I'm thinking of 'The Great Gatsby', 'A Streetcar named Desire' and 'Under Milkwood'. There was also a ballet based on 'Sophie's Choice' but again I don't know if it is a story ballet or not. It makes me wonder if today we see ballets set 80-100 years ago, in 2060 - will we be seeing ballets set at the end of the 20th century.

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MAB, yes, that comment was very peculiar. However, ignoring it, her question is a thought-provoking one.

 

2dancersmum, I think that you are right about trends. Do we want a ballet based on the Twilight series? But isn't that a twenty-first century version of Dracula which has of course been made into a ballet? I've read that there are only seven basic plots. I think that there is a book with that title (which we have at home somewhere).

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Are we only talking full length ballets?  What about Christopher Bruce's work, Swansong, about the interrogation of a prisoner by two brutal guards. Very modern and highly relevant today. 

 

Dracula is the end of the 19th Century so doesn't really count, although there are two versions currently in production, Northern Ballet and Mark Bruce company.

Edited by Pas de Quatre
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This, or so it seems to me, is an age-old, question/argument.  One has to remember that even Shakespeare (who has narratively fed so many works internationally in terms of both balletic and operatic realisations) employed a mix of classical tales from historic sources, e.g., the Chronicles.  These were certainly far from being contemporary at the time and were (frequently) employed to add comment on current political regimes whilst crucially escaping legitimate threats of libel and treason.  Only Shakespeare's larger narrative poems (e.g., The Complacent Lover) were themselves entirely original in terms of their overall narrative spin.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Christopher Bruce created a number of works on 20th century subjects - off the top of my head I can think of Land (about the situation in Poland in the 1980s, created for ENB) and Cruel Garden (about Lorca and a full evening work), Ghost Dances (about the "disappeared" of Chile in the 1970s),

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There were several Soviet era ballets with themes of revolution of the masses against the aristocracy which at the time they were presented were close to contemporary to the reality of event.  For the most part those productions have not proved to be successful in the long term.  There were also several ballets with similar themes done by Chinese companies.

 

They were too much "of their time" and "of their place" and to my knowledge, have not entered into the repertoire of other companies.  I'm not even sure how popular they are in their native setting.  People tend to move on especially when the theme is a painful one.

 

There have also been a number of attempts to take a classical ballet and change the setting in an effort to make it "more relevant" - such as changing the time and place of Giselle and Sleeping Beauty.  But - this was done with only marginal success, I think, because it's difficult to imbue the present with "magic" - reality and magic are mutually exclusive.

 

 

 

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There have also been a number of attempts to take a classical ballet and change the setting in an effort to make it "more relevant" - such as changing the time and place of Giselle and Sleeping Beauty.  But - this was done with only marginal success, I think, because it's difficult to imbue the present with "magic" - reality and magic are mutually exclusive.

 

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake was very, VERY successful... Even Mats Ek's Giselle is rather famous.

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Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake was very, VERY successful... Even Mats Ek's Giselle is rather famous.

 I would agree that Bourne's Swan Lake is successful  but I think it is so very different from the original it bears little resemblence. 

 

Same for Ek's Giselle - and only time will tell if both will withstand that test of time.  The original Giselle and Swan Lake have certainly passed that test.  For me, the jury is still out on these newer renditions.

 

There is also the question of "importability" - will they be taken into the repertoire of other companies?  How long will they outlive their creators?

 

One could also ask if either of these ballets are truly classical in the sense of using classical ballet technique and since they used a previous ballet (Giselle, Swan Lake) - then they are not story lines set in the 21st century - as per your original question.

 

So  - maybe the question might need to be further defined:

 

 "When will someone make a story ballet using classical technique set in the 21st century not based on a previous story - but a truly contemporary story?"

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Still in 20th century, what about Lorca's play House of Bernarda Alba written in 1936. MacMillan choreographed a dramatic ballet Las Hermanas based on it, with pointe shoes and classical technique. Mat Eks has made a more contemporary version.

 

Edited for spelling.

Edited by Pas de Quatre
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The Royal Winnipeg Ballet did a ballet based on Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale" last year.

 

Really?  How did that work?  And *that* was beaten to it by an opera, by about a decade, I'd guess.

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Was that successful, Katherine?

 

Weell...

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/wheres-the-dark-heart-of-the-handmaids-tale/article14914559/#dashboard/follows/

Didn't see it myself. Here's a quote from the article:

"In truth, the work is short of conflict, drama, passion and tension. ... The Handmaid’s Tale is attractive to watch, but it is bland and anemic in terms of substance, despite the company’s great talent."

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The Handmaiden film was definitely good (though I haven't read the book, so can't comment on faithfulness)

 

Just picking up on the mention of Bourne's Swanlake earlier - event though that updated a classic story, it still remained in an undefined but definitely bygone era. The costumes, bar scene etc invoked a vague 1950/60's themes.

 

Most updated theatre classics also seem to go no further in time than a slightly undefined decade feeling from 1940 'militaria' up to the 1970's, perhaps expanding to the 80's soonish. I think this ties in with what Anjuli said about the distance magic needs from reality to work on stage (by my reckoning a minimum of 30 - 40 years depending on age of the creators)

 

Mayerling the film was made 80 years after the event, the ballet 90 years. My guess would be that we have a few decades of 20th century ballets to go before someone makes a 21st century ballet based on an actual event.

 

Raven Girl is Modern Fantasy, where the time setting is 'superseded' by the magical elements (postmen do not normally breed with Ravens). As a literature genre, Fantasy could probably provide a few more blueprints for ballet, both contemporary or futuristic (Science Fiction is probably too conceptual for adaptation, might as well just have a dance about maths and leave out storytelling)

 

The other contemporary setting that could work could be psycho-dramas where the setting is not the most important thing about the ballet. Not sure whether that will be a genre appealing to everyone, but I'm quite looking forward to Cassandra which will be set in a modern day psychiatric ward

Edited by Coated
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